The Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group on June 27 said that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would eventually participate in Minsk Group mediated peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
But he said that Stepanakert’s participation would come only after the leaders of both countries sign onto a controversial document that would leave the yet unrecognized republic isolated and defenseless against a renewed Azeri war.
The statement, which is not the first of its kind, came during talks in Stepanakert between Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Bako Sahakian and the US, Russian and French co-chairs of the Minsk Group.
The Stepanakert visit was part of a tour of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict zone that ended in the Karabakh capitol after seperate talks with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan last week. The three mediators are due to brief fellow diplomats from other OSCE members states Monday on the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and, in particular, the results of their latest tour of the Caucasus.
During the meeting, Sahakian reiterated that the final resolution of the conflict would be possible only with the participation of Karabakh in the talks and warned the co-chairs, Matthew Bryza (US),Yuri Merzlyakov (Russia) and Bernard Fassier (France), that Azerbaijan’s continued confrontational rhetoric posed a threat to the peace process.
The co-chairs expressed their willingness to support the peaceful resolution of the conflict, noting that the participation of Nagorno Karabakh in the negotiation process was a matter of time and would come after “coordinating” several items in the negotiations.
“Nagorno-Karabakh will become part of the negotiation process after the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan agree upon the basic principles of agreement addressed during Madrid talks,” the Russian co-chair Yuri Merzlyakov said.
The Minsk Group, which has been mediating the conflict since 1997, presented the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan with a set of basic principles for the continuation of negotiations in Madrid last November.
The so-called Madrid proposal, forwarded to the presidents of both countries, deviated little from the principles established in 2004 at Prague, and envisaged the progressive return of seven liberated Armenian districts bordering Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
They also provide for the demilitarization of the conflict zone, the repatriation of Armenian settlers, the return of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons, and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force that neither the United Nations, NATO, nor the OSCE have the resources to manage.
During a previous visit to Baku in May, Merzlyakov had similarly stated that Karabakh’s participation in the settlement process is only possible after Armenia and Azerbaijan sign onto the basic principles established at Prague.
Although the Minsk co-chairs say the basic principles will provide a common basis to kick start negotiations, Karabakh’s authorities, along with many diplomats and international experts have signaled unease over the document. Among its shortcomings is the feasibility of implementing a future referendum on Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status, which the Minsk Group has suggested would be determined at an unspecified later date.
Another point in the proposal, making a settlement based on the Madrid principles problematic, is Karabakh’s relinquishing of control over the districts of Kelbajar and Kashatagh (Lachin). The two liberated districts lay between Armenia and Karabakh and serve as the only connection between the two republics.
Recurrent warnings by Azerbaijan of an eminent military attack on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and frequent cease-fire violations by its army in recent months have also raised serious concerns over the future of peace in the Caucuses by US Congressmen.
Earlier in June US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) led a two hour hearing that included over a dozen members of Congress questioning Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried on, among other issues, Azerbaijan’s escalating threats of war against Armenia and Karabakh.
Signals coming from Baku that it is rearming for an apparent second round war with Karabakh leave room to question whether the implementation of the Madrid principles would result in a settlement of the conflict.
Earlier this year, Sahakian met with the OSCE Chairman-in-Office in Stepanakert, where he requested the Minsk Group implement a decision made in 1995 by mediators in Budapest to include the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as a full member in the negotiation process.
According to Sahakian, the main roadblock to a final settlement of the conflict is Azerbaijan’s increasing belligerence and unwillingness to negotiate with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Without the participation of Karabakh at the discussion table, there can be no logical or lasting resolution.